Last night I had a dream. I could call it a science fiction dream, but that would be redundant, as, in retrospect, most of my dreams turn out to be unrealistic.
No, I didn’t dream about Catherine Zeta Jones (and if I ever do, I’ll make sure my wife doesn’t hear about.) This dream lacked the kind of CZJ excitement others might dream about. Instead it was on a topic that usually causes my tummy to tie up in knots.
But enough suspense:
My dream last night was about an announcement to the effect that taxpayers no longer needed to fill out long, complicated forms. It came from the I.R.S., whose staff deemed that people spend too much time trying to determine what’s deductible and what’s not. Coincidentally, I told my wife, just a few days before the filing deadline, all about how we used to be able to send our tax information on a single card. Does anybody remember that era? I’m not making this up.
Everything went on that card, eliminating the tedious filling in of information on how much we earned, how many zoos are in our home town, and the first and last name of the first girl I kissed. Are humans expected to have that great a memory?
But I digress. The card, as I recall, contained only a half dozen blanks, some of which were our Social Security Number, address, etc. It was simple to send it off, and it was a pleasure to get a refund a few weeks later. I have no recollection of what people must have done when they owed the government money, instead of the other way around. Did we need to enclose an envelope with a check?
I’ve joked — and finally dreamed about — the announcement from our friends at the I.R.S. that in the near future, each taxpayer would need to answer only four questions. They are:
- How much money did you make?
- How much did you pay in taxes?
- How much money did you have left?
- Send it in!
I try to convince myself that there must be a simpler way. I’ve used the same tax preparer for more than a dozen years.
She tries to get us every legitimate deduction we’re entitled to. I admire her ability but would never wish to emulate her, as I’m a person who has a hard time balancing my checkbook. The good news this year, Madame Tax Preparer said, was that we wouldn’t need to pay Uncle Sam as much as we did last year.
We obviously asked her how Bonnie and I came to receive such a boon, such a windfall. “You’re paying less this year because you earned less last year,” she answered. Oh, so that’s all it takes to cut our indebtedness to the U.S. Government? All we need to do is retire? This is the same tax preparer who recommended that we ask for bigger and bigger chunks of withholding each year.
Been there, done that! I’m of the old school that believes it’s better to suffer each payday by having the government take a bit more out of my check, so I can go on a holiday around refund-time and order a real steak instead of a Spam sandwich, a glass of champagne instead of a Diet Coke, etc.
But others who sometimes join the conversation have a different take altogether. They argue, “Why do you want to let the government keep your money for a year? Me? I’d rather spend it on myself and my family and worry about debt-paying in April.”
I’ve never been the kind of person who could sock things away for that rainy April 15 obligation. After years of needing to perform desperate measures to settle up with Washington and Santa Fe, I realized I’m not good at saving.
In my youth I’d heard the saying, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” I wondered whether that expression might just happen to apply to me. But happily, the source I found pre-dates me by about a century.
So there’s some hope. My late dad, J.D. Trujillo, was an accountant for most of his life. He offered to do my state and federal taxes one year, but not the next. I heard him grumbling to Mom the next day, saying, “If we looked up the word ‘squanderer’ in the dictionary, we’d find Arthur’s picture.”
I try not to grumble over the multitudinous loopholes that members of Trump’s cabinet use to protect their billions. It seems the more they have, the more they want. My lot in life must be to remain a thousandaire, even if there’s no such term.
And I try not to be envious of the many ways the wealthy escape tax liability by virtue of having high-priced accountants who can turn debits into windfalls.
For now I’m thankful for the “good news” our accountant, Kathy, gave us. Using that logic, the logic that says we pay less in taxes if we earn less, I’m wondering how much better off Bonnie and I well be when we’ve both retired.